You’re likely familiar with the separation anxiety many children show when leaving their parents or carers, but those feelings can also affect caregivers themselves.
Parental separation anxiety typically occurs in families when a child goes to nursery, starts school, or spends time away from home. For foster parents, it can also be part of the difficult process of saying goodbye to a foster child leaving your care.
If you think you might be struggling with parental separation anxiety, you’re not alone and there’s lots you can do to help yourself cope.
Causes of parental separation anxiety in foster carers
With foster care, the legal responsibility for the child remains with the local authority – which means that sometimes their care situation can change very quickly. On occasion, a child will need to move or return to their birth family, or a child might be old enough to begin the process of leaving care and living on their own. When moving on is in the child’s best interest – whatever the reason – the child’s needs will always come first.
For foster parents with very young foster children, starting school and spending more time outside the home can also create difficult periods of adjustment for both parent and child.
All these situations can trigger feelings of deep anxiety in parents, known as parental separation anxiety. Symptoms include:
- Low mood
- Anxiety or panic
- Depression or sadness
- Catastrophic thinking
- Excessive worrying
What you can do to combat your separation anxiety:
- Stay busy. When your child leaves to begin school, keep yourself distracted by focusing on things you enjoy doing to help pass the time until they return.
- Reach out for support. This is why your social worker is there – if you need help, pick up the phone and a supportive voice will be on the other end.
- Try not to pass your anxiety on to your child. As hard as the separation is for you, do your best not to let your fears create anxiety for your child. The transition should be as fun and positive as possible for your child, whether it’s starting school or moving on to a new home.
- Give yourself space to feel your feelings. There is no right or wrong way to feel – allow yourself time to feel upset if you need to.
- Practice relaxation techniques. These can help keep you calm when feelings of anxiety and fear come up.
- Where possible, stay in touch. Sometimes when foster children leave care, they remain close with their former foster parents – it’s at the discretion of the child’s social worker, as their best interests will always be top of mind.
Making ‘goodbye’ a joyful experience
As hard as it is to say goodbye to a child you love, the moment of goodbye will be a memory that you can both hold on to forever – especially when it’s a long-term goodbye.
Try to make it a joyful experience that celebrates your child’s accomplishments and gets them excited about the next step – whatever it might be. Make a scrapbook of your memories together to help both of you remember the time you spent together. Try to be grateful for the time, and let your child know that you love and believe in them.
To find out more about the support Compass Fostering offers to foster carers, please get in touch and our friendly team will answer any questions you might have.